Gut Health across Lifestages – the inside scoop on probiotics and who should be taking them


By: Chelsea DeColle CNP

Gut health is an ever-present, hot topic of conversation amongst the health and wellness community. Consumers are also becoming more aware of the benefits of maintaining a healthy gastrointestinal tract for overall health, not just for the gut, and are looking for guidance from us as professionals in the field.  

The amount of information available (online, books, etc) regarding the human microbiome and probiotics is vast and can often be confusing to navigate and understand. This is our cue to engage in conversations with consumers to provide education. Here’s the inside scoop on probiotics to help guide those conversations on all things gut health related.

Let’s start off with a few quick refresher on probiotics and some key points to keep in mind for those conversations.

What is the human microbiome?1

A collective of millions upon millions of microorganisms (the microbiota), which include bacteria, that live on and in the human body and work synergistically with our own cells to influence immune, endocrine, and neural pathways within the body.

What are probiotics?

Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that can be consumed to help normalize gastrointestinal microflora​ and promote a favourable gut flora.2These good bacteria function opposite to harmful microbes by defending against pathogens, as well as providing essential nutrients, breakdown indigestible substances, and contribute to the development and maintenance of a healthy gut.3

What are prebiotics?4

Prebiotics are non-digestible nutrients (mainly carbohydrates) that provide a source of fuel to good bacteria in the gut. They support the growth of beneficial bacteria while inhibiting growth of certain pathogenic microorganisms in the gut, improving overall gut health. Research also shows that prebiotics can interact directly with immune cells and improve the health of intestinal epithelial cells.

What should you look for in a probiotic?

Strains – The strains of bacteria matter, as does the number of different strains within a formulation. Different strains of bacteria are needed in different parts of the gastrointestinal tract so having a variety of strains including well researched ones like Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium longum are important.

Potency/CFU – The potency or total number of bacterial cells in a formula is the colony forming units (CFU) and it’s important to take note of what the potency (too little may not provide enough support)  and what the guaranteed potency is to expiry of the product.

Stability – Probiotics need to withstand the harsh and acidic environment of the stomach in order to reach the intestines, so ensure the formula is designed to withstand stomach acid and bile, and breakdown at a specific time after ingestion.

Quality assurance – Not all probiotics are created equal! Quality assurance and third-party testing like TRU-ID certification ensures that each probiotic species listed on the package is what is actually in the product, no more, no less.

Who can benefit from a probiotic?

The reality is most people can benefit from a probiotic as the standard diet most people consume today contains very little probiotic food sources compared to that of our ancestors. If you do consume a variety of high quality probiotic and prebiotic foods on a daily basis then you may not need a probiotic all the time.

Our microbiome is influenced before we are even born and things like method of childbirth and mother’s microbiome can also affect our microbiome.5 Gut diversity continues to develop as an infant and young child and is influenced by many factors including diet and feeding/eating patterns and behaviours and exposures to antibiotics, so supporting a child’s gut health with a probiotic can be very beneficial to overall health early in life.5 Research shows probiotics can also be beneficial in supporting  childhood conditions like colic and eczema.6

If you notice you are suffering from frequents colds and viral infections, a probiotic may provide some additional support as research shows the direct connection of gut health to our immune health.7 For people with certain gastrointestinal conditions, probiotics can be a great support. We know that probiotics provide an overall benefit for GI health and regularity, but research shows that probiotics can help relieve symptoms associated with specific GI conditions, like abdominal pain associated with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)​. Probiotics are also very helpful when taking antibiotics to replenish and maintain good bacteria.

As we age our gut microbiome shifts and our gastrointestinal function starts to slow. As a result, gut dysbiosis (imbalance of good and bad gut bacteria) can develop resulting in a greater need for probiotic support for the elderly. 8

If you have an immune related condition, or complex, chronic health condition, always speak with a healthcare practitioner before using a probiotic.

References:

1. Yang, I., et al. (2016). The Infant Microbiome: Implications for Infant Health and Neurocognitive Development. Nursing research65(1), 76–88.

2. Hun, L. (2009). Original Research: Bacillus coagulans Significantly Improved Abdominal Pain and Bloating in Patients with IBS, Postgraduate Medicine, 121(2): 119-124.

3. Round, J. L., Mazmanian, S. K. (2009) The gut microbiome shapes intestinal immune response during health and disease. Nature reviews Immunology. 9(5): 313-323.  

4. Davani-Davari, D, et al. (2019). Prebiotics: Definition, Types, Sources, Mechanisms, and Clinical Applications. Foods (Basel, Switzerland)8(3), 92.

5. Yang, I. (2016). The Infant Microbiome: Implications for Infant Health and Neurocognitive Development. Nursing research65(1), 76–88.

6. Rodríguez, J. M., et al. (2015). The composition of the gut microbiota throughout life, with an emphasis on early life. Microbial ecology in health and disease26, 26050. https://doi.org/10.3402/mehd.v26.26050

7. Berggren A, Lazou Ahrén I, Larsson N, Önning G. Randomised, double-blind and placebo-controlled study using new probiotic lactobacilli for strengthening the body immune defence against viral infections. Eur J Nutr. 2011;50(3):203-210. doi:10.1007/s00394-010-0127-6

8. Kim, S., & Jazwinski, S. M. (2018). The Gut Microbiota and Healthy Aging: A Mini-Review. Gerontology64(6), 513–520. https://doi.org/10.1159/000490615

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